NORTH KOREAN TRAFFIC POLICE

Beijing, 8 April 2013

My older brother, whom I mentioned in my previous posting, sent me an email yesterday asking me if I would join the lengthening list of foreigners who, according to the Financial Times, are leaving Beijing because of the pollution but also more recently because of the sharp increase in the levels of bellicosity emanating from North Korea. I should explain that I have the dubious privilege of also covering North Korea for my organization and in this guise I have visited the country a few times. My personal view, for what it’s worth, is that all the shouting and bawling by the North Korean leadership has more to do with solidifying support for a young, callow leader than with an actual desire for war. So it is with a certain complacency that I watch footage on the world’s TV programmes of Kim Jong Un showing off his military skills in front of admiring generals.

On the other hand, I am particularly taken by TV footage showing North Korean soldiers marching around Pyongyang’s central square; I am a great admirer of their drilling skills. When I was a boy at school we had to play at soldiers once a week (on Monday afternoons to be precise), and part of the play was learning to drill. So I have a keen appreciation, born from many miserable hours marching about the school parking lot, of how complicated it is to get a bunch of men – and women – to walk in step, goose-step at that, stiff as robots, and have them wheel and turn in precise unison around a square.

north korean soldiers drilling-2

TOPSHOTS-NKOREA-POLITICS-KIM

All this marching around makes me think of one thing which particularly struck me and my wife during my first visit, and her only visit, to Pyongyang: the traffic police. At the time of that first visit, Pyongyang didn’t have any traffic lights and what little traffic there was at road crossings was regulated by women police officers (they were all women). And let me tell you, these ladies were no slouches! They were most military in style. It started when they took up their shift, which saw them marching briskly to their spot in the middle of the crossroads.

traffic police girl-marching into position-1

Once in place, they regulated traffic with a baton, very visible arm signals, and a stern face. My wife and I watched them for a while and we came to the conclusion that this was the code:

“Change in flow patterns about to take place!”

traffic police girl-pointing up-3

“Traffic from my right [or left] can turn left [or right]!”

traffic police girl-pointing forward-3

“Traffic coming from my left [or right] can go straight past me”

traffic police girl-pointing across chest-1

After warning of a change, the policewoman would wheel smartly on her heel to face in the right direction.

It was a fascinating militaristic ballet to watch.

There is also a fashion element in all of this. The first three photos show the ladies in their winter uniform, the last in their summer uniform. Personally, I prefer the winter uniform.

We are not the only ones to have found the traffic policewomen fascinating. There is a whole website dedicated to them! I admire all the photos that were taken. We were told not to take photos, and I meekly complied. But others clearly ignored the interdict. As you can see, the policewomen were Not Amused by these law-breakers.

traffic police girl-pointing up-2

Before boring traffic lights were introduced, I suspect all countries had these traffic police. Italy certainly did. My wife remembers them well from her youth, and I have found a few old photographs of them on the web.

traffic police italy-7

traffic police italy-9

From the makes of the cars, we reckon the photos were taken in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s. I’ve seen the Italian police in action a few times when traffic lights have gone on the blink (or perhaps I should say off the blink). I must say, they were very theatrical: step 1, gaze intensely at the oncoming cars; step 2, raise the hand slowly and very obviously; step 3, snap it into place and accompany it with a short, shrill blow on the whistle.

traffic police italy-4

I am reminded of a story my elder brother told me many years ago – the same brother with whom I started this post. In the late ‘60s, he was staying in Rome for a few months, in the Trastevere district. He recounted that there was a policeman who was particularly well known by the district’s locals for his elegant style in directing traffic. When it was time for his shift, an admiring crowd would gather to watch him in action, and at the end of his shift they would clap – at least, so claimed my brother; but this last part I doubt.

Sadly, I saw during my last visit to Pyongyang that traffic lights have arrived there. As for the traffic police ladies, they were left to slouch about in a most unmilitary fashion at their road crossings, playing no obvious role that I could see. Sic transit gloria mundi.

________________________

N. Korean soldiers drilling-2: http://l2.yimg.com/bt/api/res/1.2/bEb._9Przkk9QLPFPdhNsQ–/YXBwaWQ9eW5ld3M7Y2g9MTk2OTtjcj0xO2N3PTMwMDA7ZHg9MDtkeT0wO2ZpPXVsY3JvcDtoPTQxNDtxPTg1O3c9NjMw/http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/ap_webfeeds/b886bb1bad68ea0a0c0f6a706700c977.jpg
N. Korean soldiers drilling-3: http://rt.com/files/online-exclusive/galleries/north-korea/army-plaza-soldiers-marching/i182d25fd3712d679f42df606bce13c57_000_hkg-639412.jpg
Traffic policewoman taking up her shift: http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2754/4380470489_8189781b65_z.jpg
Traffic policewoman pointing up: http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2531/5758279854_5b5d42c09c_z.jpg
Traffic policewoman pointing forward: http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2737/4166260885_fbca4d5637_z.jpg
Traffic policewoman pointing across: http://cfile217.uf.daum.net/image/194F2C234B98B8423417CE
Traffic police Italy-1: http://desk.unita.it/cgi-bin/showimg2.cgi?file=F_NAT_L2_0701/00000029/0000400F.c28b7356.jpg&t=big
Traffic police Italy-2: http://desk.unita.it/cgi-bin/showimg2.cgi?file=F_NAT_L2_0701/00000029/0000396F.1280fd16.jpg&t=big
Traffic police Italy-3: http://termoli.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/vigile.jpg

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Abellio

I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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